The Day SKIN DIVER Magazine Saved Cave Diving


The latest news in what I will simply refer to as the Eagles Nest Incident is that the victim’s father wants the state to “close” the cave to prevent further tragedies. Personally, I think that’s a great idea — just like I think closing all public schools will prevent further masacres like the ones in Newtown and Columbine. Yeah, right…

I’m not losing any sleep over this, simply because I know from past experience it will never happen. How do I know this? Because it’s just a replay of an incident that happened 40 years ago.

Back in the 1980s, when I lived in California and worked for organizations such as NAUI, PADI and DEMA, one of my friends and mentors was Skin Diver magazine publisher Paul Tzimoulis. At the time, Skin Diver was the magazine for divers and, in the days before the Internet, had far greater impact on the world of diving than any website or magazine has since.

Thanks to Paul, I was able to get several articles published in Skin Diver. To this day, there are a lot of people who think of me more as a writer than they do as an illustrator, web designer and video producer (which is what I really do).

Not surprisingly, one of the articles Paul had me write had to do with cave diving. As we were discussing the article, Paul said, “Did I ever tell you about the time I saved cave diving?”

Back in the 1970s, access to north Florida’s caves was nowhere near as controlled as it is today. Anyone with a sufficiently robust vehicle could simply drive in and dive sites like Peacock, Madison Blue and Devil’s Eye with no one to stop them. Formal cave diver training was almost nonexistent. Not surprisingly, we were losing as many as two dozen recreational divers a year in underwater caves.

Needless to say, there was a lot of pressure from newspapers and others for the state to bar access to these “killer” caves. It got so bad that, at one point, there was a public meeting at the state level to consider just such legislation. According to Tzimoulis, cave diving pioneer Dave Desautels invited him to attend this meeting.

As the publisher of Skin Diver, Paul was deemed by those in attendance to be the person best suited to represent the interests of divers. When it came time for him to speak, he surprised everyone by getting up and saying, “I think this is a great idea. Close all the caves as soon as possible.”

After a stunned silence, Paul went on to say, “I just have one question. Who is going to pay for all this?” Paul explained that you couldn’t simply block the entrance to all of the hundreds of underwater caves without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and creating an environmental catastrophe. Fences and gates would also cost money and people would simply drive over or around them, as they did repeatedly at Peacock.

“The only way you are going to get this to work is to hire armed security and post them at all the caves, 24 hours a day,” Paul said. “I just want to know whose budget this is going to come out of?” At that point, any serious discussion of outlawing cave diving or closing off access to caves died and has not really come up since.

I doubt sincerely that anything will come of the grieving father’s insistence that we compensate for his not having raised his kid to be responsible by punishing everybody else. This is not to say that some legislator or bureaucrat won’t feel compelled to make it look like he or she is “doing something” about the problem. But, as Tzimoulis pointed out, the best way to shut down such discussions is to simply ask, Who is going to pay?

Remember also that we have an ally we didn’t have in the 1970s. The Florida Department of Natural Resources’ Diving Safety Officer is none other than Jeff Loflin, an active cave diving instructor and past NSS-CDS President. His voice will carry weight in any such discussion.

One of the upsides of state and local governments being so strapped for cash these days is that, as much as they may want to act like Big Brother, they generally don’t have the money to do so.

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